Imagine flying through your to-do list every day and having plenty of free time left over. Sound like a dream come true? That’s the promise of productivity hacks. But as somebody who’s tried almost all of them, I’ve found that this fantasy doesn’t always become reality.
The good news is that there are plenty of other options—in fact, thanks to the internet, I’d say almost endless. But if that sounds overwhelming to you, fear not! I’ve gone through all the most famous productivity hacks and come up with alternatives for each one.
1. Schedule difficult tasks for when you're at your best
The Eat the Frog concept, created by author Brian Tracy, is all about doing your most important task first each day. While it can help make sure your top priority is taken care of, getting down to business first thing in the morning might not be the most convenient time for you.
So if you’re not at peak performance until later in the day, try scheduling your top task for the time that suits you best. So, whether you’re most energized after your coffee break or more motivated just before leaving the office, do your most important work then.
2. Create tiny to-dos you can complete in 10 minutes
The Eisenhower Matrix method of classifying tasks by urgency and importance and doing them in that order can definitely work for some. But, if you struggle with getting started, the pressure of having to work on high-priority and high-urgency tasks can scare you into procrastinating.
Keep a list of tiny to-dos that you can finish in just 10 minutes and run through them first. You’ll feel motivated by the win of knocking out a couple of tasks quickly and ready to handle more serious work. Plus, you’ll probably have the cleanest desk and the most organized inbox in your office.
3. Don't feel bad about taking all the breaks you need
The Pomodoro Technique involves working in 25-minute intervals with five-minute breaks in between. You might find that this gives you fantastic focus. But, it might not be possible for you to get everything done in such a short time period.
When you’re more the type who likes to do tasks from start to finish in one sitting, you should adjust your plan to fit with your focus. So, feel free to sometimes stick with a task until it’s completely done, and then take a break. (No really, take that break! Studies say you need it.)
4. Make a "Done" list
With the “don’t do” list, you can write down the things that you know sabotage your productivity to remind yourself not to do them. But, then how do you know what you should be spending your time on?
By writing down all the tasks you complete, you see where your time goes. So, this method is a twofer: You can make better decisions when you have hard data on your work, and you’ll be motivated to keep at it when you can actually see your progress.
5. Add tasks as you go
Fans of the schedule-everything method say you should assign all your tasks a certain day and time in your calendar to make sure you can fit it all in. I keep wanting to return to this method myself, but seeing my crammed calendar just causes me stress.
My solution for dialing it down while still keeping an eye on timelines is to fill my calendar only once a week. So, I keep a master list with all my to-dos (broken down into the smallest tasks possible). Then, I add the tasks to my calendar on a weekly basis. I find this regular review gives me more flexibility, but still lets me meet deadlines and stay on top of longer-term projects.
6. Batch your tasks
The two-minute rule encourages you to do any task that takes 120 seconds or less right away. That saves you the time of writing it down and gets it taken care of. But, it can also mean that you never have time for deeper work.
Instead of reacting to things as soon as they pop up, jot them down and then later do a bunch at the same time. This prevents them from constantly interrupting your workflow, while still making sure everything gets done.